Why Kousaka Kirino is a great character
With the release of OreImo Light Novel 9 and the announcement that a second OreImo PSP game is in production, this would be a good time to reflect on the questions that are floating around various comment threads, such as:
“Why is this bitch still in the news?”
“How could people be blind enough to prefer an ungrateful, violent, spoilt brat over Kuroneko?”
Like many others, I first discovered Kousaka Kirino through the anime adapation of OreImo.
By Clow, I said to myself, Here’s a younger sister I would eagerly do all manner of obscure and nonsensical errands for.
That tsuntsun that refused to admit her otakuhood at first, that brocon that woke her brother by straddling him at night, that deredere that emerged as she revealed her collection, and those hardcore deredere imoutocon tendencies. And those little curls of hair that pop out behind her ears.
It certainly didn’t hurt that she was voiced by Taketatsu Ayana, who was already making waves as K-On!’s Nakano Azusa.
Then the anime continued, and Kirino suddenly became a terrible whirlwind of tsuntsun rage that not even a last minute Hail Mary Meido episode could compensate for. Her detractors have prospered ever since.
Now, from a business perspective, it’s difficult to create a product that sells.
In anime, this is usually accomplished through a mixture of uniqueness -something new or a deconstruction on the genre – and memorability. To speak of anime that I’ve watched, I’d have to say that The World God Only Knows would be one of the few series that has succeeded in both, with an iconic protagonist and a cast of girls who each have their own individual appeal.
In contrast, the Haruhi series, with its own unique main characters and which practically synonymous with anime in its time due to the sheer hype over it, lost traction with viewers after the stories degraded to “Haruhi-does-more-random-things-while-Kyon-snarks”.
And the Kore wa Zombie Desu Ka series was a novelty for the first few episodes before the story started to suffer to fit in each new genre-mashed character. I wince every time I see the many, many unsold copies of the light novels on the shelves.
While I can’t comment on how ‘big’ the OreImo series actually is, I can say that its market plan appears to have worked rather well:
Step 1) Attract viewers with the cute title
Step 2) Make the main character extremely memorable
Step 3) ???
Step 4) Profit.
The “???” is there just to fulfil the meme obligations. I’ll be going into detail on what happens in step 3 in a bit.
So how exactly do you make a character memorable?
Psychology 101, the two most simple emotions we experience are that of love and hate. When you were a kid, you certainly didn’t really understand the concept of more complicated emotions like jealousy or compassion, but you definitely knew that you loved chocolate and you hated broccoli. And even now as adults, those two emotions come the most naturally before being processed into anger or whatnot.
Hence, to make a character memorable, all you have to do is to appeal to those instinctive natural emotions.
The problem with love is that people all love different things. And while it’s true that there is a vague general ideal anime girl in the male shared subconscious, it can only go downhill from there.
Large breasts or small. Ponytail or twintails. Height, behaviour, social status, spectacle requirements – there are so many different preferences that one single anime girl cannot possibly appeal to them all.
However, while it’s difficult to create a character that is loved, it’s significantly easier to create a character that is hated. Many amateur writers create atrocious characters in their fanfiction every day.
But it takes a good writer to exploit and manipulate that hatred such that the character is remembered (like a certain unkillable magical contract-making white furball) and not simply forcibly forgotten.
By the way, I’m making all this up, I’ve never studied psychology ever.
Kirino is actually a very interesting character in this respect. I know she has quite a substantial hatedom, but bear with me just a moment. Consider the following Kirino character traits:
1) She’s extremely determined in getting what she wants
2) She’s willing to pull outrageous stunts
3) She’s a brocon
4) She’s a model, a model student and one of the track and field star athletes
5) She’s full-on tsuntsun and her deredere is night impossible to unlock
The interesting part here is that these reasons can apply to either the fans or the detractors. Kirino is remarkably well written in that all her traits taken together is cause for intense attraction or palpable loathing.
You might notice that I didn’t include the fact that she’s an otaku. That’s because I’m not sure about her otaku status myself. Sure, she started out as one, and she does have quite the extensive collection, but as the story goes on in the light novels her otakuhood is rarely mentioned at all, and only for plot developments.
I suppose that might be a new reason for detractors to hate her: that she’s not a real otaku and she only started her collection for attention/a substitute to vent her true emotions. But isn’t that what many otaku do? I know I’d never have started on anime if I’d found a girlfriend first. But I digress.
At one stroke, Kirino stimulates both primal emotions (I don’t mean simultaneously, although there are those who love to hate). It doesn’t stop there.
Step 3) Manipulate viewers’/readers’ emotions. Remember to pander to the fanbase every now and then.
I cannot stress that second part enough. And by fanbase I mean those who follow the original story as per the light novels, where Kirino isn’t exactly the same girl that she is in the anime. Namely, she is much less violent, much less ungrateful, and her brocon tendencies are much more obvious.
The ingenuity of this plan is only evident when a fanbase-pandering moment appears, such as the Kirino-goes-all-out-to-restore-Kyousuke’s-happiness plot in volume 8.
The detractors, who generally have only seen the anime and only think of Kirino as a cold-hearted bitch, immediately mock her and claim she’s screwing with Kyousuke again. The fanbase, who have waited since volume 4 (which was the last true fanbase-pandering moment, volume 7’s false date notwithstanding) and have kept faith all this while, feel rewarded/vindicated – with some of the more extreme fans going white knight in response to the detractors.
(Also, I have to say that the Kuroneko fanbase furore, whether deliberate or encouraged or whatever, was still brilliant. It became the ‘in-thing’ to be a Kuroneko fan to the extent that people got sick of it and became Kirino fans. It was FF7 all over again.)
I don’t actually know if this little manoeuvre can be attributed to Kirino being a good character, since it was kind of an orchestrated plot moment, but then again maybe Kirino just never saw Kyousuke actually needing her help before.
That’s part of what makes Kirino so intriguing – the viewers/readers never really know what she’s thinking.
They can guess, they can extrapolate from her actions, and volume 8 revealed quite a bit, but until then it was just suspicions all the way. It certainly didn’t help that the narrator is Kyousuke and who is rather unreceptive of girls’ emotions, although he can be uncharacteristically observant.
Up until now, there was only one glimpse into Kirino’s head – the bonus short story that was part of the DVD Set. But it certainly revealed quite a bit.
In many ways, Kirino is responsible for keeping the plot moving. That’s hardly a reason to like her, but regardless, the other girls – with the possible exception of Kuroneko – aren’t going to produce a great story on their own.
Ruri: Since she managed to carry the entirety of volume 5 by herself, she would be the best possible substitute if one day Fushimi Tsukasa decides to kill off Kirino for the lulz. Although after reading the first chapters of her spin-off manga, I’m not exactly hyped – even as a former-Ruri fan myself – and I don’t see what plots can come about from Ruri being a loner in class and writing doujinshi.
Manami: With the second greatest fandom after Ruri, Manami is boring. I mean that without any bias whatsoever. Oh, she is the sane choice, and she can cook and clean and all that stuff. But to have to rely heavily on Manami’s grandparents for everything from comedy to plot advancements is just sad.
Saori: As an Ojou, she certainly has the financial holdings to make anythng happen. But would that be any different or more interesting than any other story with an Ojou?
Ayase: She may be my personal favourite on par with Kirino, but she’s heavily dependent on Kirino, to the point that Ayase alone would be a sad semi-based-on-real-life story about a teenage model who snaps due to the pressure of her work. Or something.
Kanako: Actually has the potential for a spin-off as a teenage loli model who scorns her otaku fanbase in secret. My second favourite after Ayase.
Sena(not pictured): Has the exact same premise as Kirino, but somehow it just doesn’t seem to work. Not for me, at the very least. I do know of fans who think that Sena deserves a spin-off with her brother Akagi since they seem so open to an incestuous relationship.
With the long list of character defects – she’s stubborn, selfish, ungrateful, dishonest, inconsiderate, among other things – Kirino is definitely not every guy’s dream girl. I wouldn’t even say that she’s my dream girl, although she is in the top 5.
But to me, personally, the flaws make her almost perfect when taken together with her determination and her intense passions. She’s the main character, so it’s expected that she’ll move the plot and the other characters will somewhat revolve around her, but more importantly, she engages the audience extremely well.
Be it attracting a massive tide of rage sufficient to have the light novels being physically torn by her readers, or inspiring fervent devotion so as to have the same repentant readers fixing their torn volumes with cellophane, Kirino has been responsible for OreImo getting so much attention any time anything slightly related to it is announced (light novels/manga/anime/figures/games/doujinshi/hentai/overzealous-fans).
Kirino herself is unique and memorable, and in her own way she brings out the best in the other characters of OreImo, making them unique and memorable too.
And that’s why she’s such a great character.